My personal experience with Thomas S. Monson

thomasmonsonLast night I felt a special love for Thomas S. Monson, our current President of the Church. Since he will be speaking again this morning in our general conference, I wanted to share some of my feelings about this man Latter-day Saints sustain as prophet, seer, and revelator.

As I’ve written about before, when I was 11 years old my father unexpectedly died. Because my grandparents had been friends with the Monsons for many years, Thomas Monson – who was then 1st Counselor to Church President Gordon B. Hinckley – spoke at my dad’s funeral. At the time I met him very briefly. I never expected to meet him again.

Well several years later, I did. As a young teenager I happened to meet him backstage right before he was to speak at a large gathering. He invited me to sit next to him. He then put his arm around me and for the next 10 minutes treated me like I was the reason he was even there. Without being told anything other than my name, he launched into a brief history of how he knew my family and how much he valued his friendship with my grandparents. He asked about my immediate family – how we were doing, how I was doing, and encouraged me to be good to my mom and to help her. And while I don’t remember everything we talked about, I do remember, like the cliché, how he made me feel.

By any conventional standard, I certainly should have been the least of his worries that night. I’m still amazed that he demonstrated such concern for a little teenager he happened to run into right before his big talk.

Such concern seems to be characteristic for Thomas Monson. There are many stories of his lifelong efforts to reach out to the one. (See this talk and this talk, for two examples.)

You can probably understand why, then, I think this tribute to Thomas S. Monson in 2008 by Joseph B. Wirthlin is the most fitting tribute to I’ve ever heard given to anyone:

While it is a compliment to him that many of the great and mighty of this world know and honor him, perhaps it is an even greater tribute that many of the lowly call him friend. 

Thomas S. Monson points others to Jesus Christ, by word and deed, to live and love and serve as the Savior did. I know TSM is not a perfect man, but he is a very, very good one. More than that though, I believe him to be a special witness of Jesus Christ.

When I study TSM’s messages or hear him speak, I feel the Holy Ghost affirm that he is a prophet of God – a modern Moses. I sustain him as such and look forward to hearing him today at conference (morning session begins at 11am CDT). Watch the proceedings live here and follow on Twitter here, hashtag #LDSconf.

The Tao of Pooh and The Love of God

Benjamin Hoff's The Tao of Pooh (1982)

Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh (1982)

At the recommendation of a friend, I picked up The Tao of Pooh from the library recently. Although I typically refrain from using the word “delightful,” there’s not a better way to describe it: the book’s delightful.

The author, Benjamin Hoff, uses Winnie the Pooh to describe the basic principles of Taoism (the Uncarved Block; Knowledge from Experience; Inner Nature; Wu Wei, etc.) I’d recommend the book to anyone. It provides an easy and fun way to better understand Taoism, which for me always seemed rather difficult to comprehend in my high school world history class. 

But reading this book led me down another grassy lane in the Hundred-Acre Wood. How would I use Winnie the Pooh to describe my beliefs? Having watched the Winnie the Pooh movie several times recently with my two-year old and recalling my childhood adventures with Pooh Bear, it wasn’t all that hard to come up with something. Admittedly, the metaphor I came up with is pretty simple. It’s certainly not as clever as what you’d find in The Tao of Pooh, and maybe it’s not even that original. My bet is that others have talked about this long before I thought of it. Nonetheless, I think this metaphor captures the very essence of the Christian message. And this is what it is: God loves everyone, in spite of our quirks

Think of the characters in Winnie the Pooh.

  • There’s the amusing and lovable Winnie the Pooh.
  • Shy and hesitant Piglet.
  • Narcissistic and verbose Owl.
  • Nervous and scheming Rabbit.
  • Gloomy and depressed Eeyore.
  • Hyper and unrestrained Tigger. 
  • Innocent and childlike Roo.
  • Motherly, though often clueless Kanga.

And then there’s Christopher Robin. All the animals love and revere Christopher Robin. They go to him when they need help, often after they’ve expended their totally inadequate and usually misguided efforts. In fact, their attempts frequently make things worse. But Christopher Robin steps in, loves them all, and patiently resolves matters. They have implicit faith in him, and he, in turn, has patient love for each of them. In this way, Christopher Robin is appropriately named, for he is a type of Christ.

If you wonder if God really loves you, may I suggest that you remember this simple lesson from Winnie the Pooh. When I was about fifteen years old, I started to wonder if God was really there and if his love is real. I’ve since discovered that while God’s love is constant and unchanging, our ability to feel that love can fluctuate and is influenced in some ways by the tilt of our souls.

As I reach out to God in heartfelt prayer, and as I try to selflessly serve others, I more fully feel and experience that love, which is “the most desirable of all things.” The familiar phrase: ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find is more than a cliché – it is an instruction with a promise. I’ve tested it and know that God hears our prayers. For some reason, he allows us seek him in order to feel that love, but it is there and it is worth the journey. Recently, this message was given to Latter-day Saint women by Thomas Monson, prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

Thomas Monson on God's Love - Sept2013